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'People are being shot dead and no one is saying a thing': Sudanese community in Ireland protest government violence

Up to 40 people have been killed in violent protests in Sudan in recent weeks.

sudan Demonstrators help a women who was shot in her hand during clashes with security forces in Umm Ruwaba, north Kordofan, Sudan last month. Source: Sudanese Activist/AP/Press Association Images

MEMBERS OF THE Sudanese community in Ireland have called on the Irish government to condemn the actions of the Sudanese government amid violent clashes in the country.

The Sudanese government has said 19 people have been killed in protests in recent weeks, but Amnesty International has estimated that the death toll is twice that number.

Protests erupted last month when the government raised the price of a small loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six cents). The demonstrations quickly spread into large anti-government rallies. 

Some analysts have compared the protests to the beginning of the Arab Spring movement, viewing them as the biggest threat to President Omar al-Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since he swept to power in a 1989 coup.

Al-Bashir has said he will not bow to calls for him to resign. 

In a letter sent to a number of TDs and the Department of Foreign Affairs, members of the Sudanese community in Ireland have criticised the Sudanese government as well as the international reaction to the violence.

The letter, seen by TheJournal.ie, calls on the Irish government to condemn the Sudanese government’s “disproportionate and deadly response” to the protests and to “reconsider its relationship” with al-Bashir’s regime. 

It states that the protests are “in response to the ever-growing lack of access to needs as basic as bread, fuel and access to funds”. Limitations have been placed on how much money people can withdraw from banks as the government attempts to halt growing inflation.

letter Source: Dr Muiz Hajaz

The letter states that the protests were triggered by “the dire economic situation” but adds that people are now also “demanding an end to corruption, human rights abuses and al-Bashir’s tyrannical regime”.

“They are protesting much more than soaring basic living expenses and austerity measures,” it states. 

A demonstration to show solidarity with the Sudanese people will be held on O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre at 1pm today. 

‘Intention to kill’ 

Dr Muiz Hajaz, a doctor who works in Portlaoise Hospital, is one of the people behind the letter.

He said many Sudanese people in Ireland are worried about family members back home, stating: “Everyone is in danger … People are being shot dead and no one is saying a thing.”

Hajaz said the relative lack of international condemnation of the violence is “really disgraceful”. He said the Sudanese government’s response has been “to quell the protests violently … with live ammunition used with the intention to kill”. 

This has been accompanied by mass arrests, torture and shutdown of social media outlets and the internet.

“The international community’s response to these atrocities has been a half-hearted call for restraint on both sides, thus equating the ruthless regime with unarmed protesters,” he told TheJournal.ie.

When asked about the letter and the situation in Sudan, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: 

Ireland, working closely with our partners in the EU, supports the statement issued by the EU External Action Service and circulated by the EU Delegation in Khartoum calling on the Government of Sudan to exercise restraint, respect the right to peaceful protest and ensure that all law enforcement and security bodies act under its direct control and in accordance with Sudan’s constitutional and international commitments.

The European Union has allocated in the region of €200 million to Sudan since 2015 to help stem migration from East Africa. Hajaz and others believe this arrangement may be the reason there hasn’t been a stronger international response to the protests. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation into the violence. Hajaz said the UN calling for authorities within Sudan to investigate what is happening there doesn’t go far enough. 

Looting and violence

“These demonstrations and the anger that animates them are much stronger than any we’ve seen in recent years,” Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University who has been tracking Sudan’s politics and economy for two decades, said.

“The shortage of bread … and outrageous price increases is perhaps the greatest source of immediate popular anger, and there is nothing that can alleviate the problem,” Reeves told AFP.

Several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched in the initial violence.

Some protesters have also adopted the slogan used in the 2011 Arab Spring: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges connected to a 15-year-old rebellion in the western region of Darfur, came to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup that toppled prime minister Sadiq al-Madhi and his democratically elected government.

Since then the former general has ruled the African country with a tight grip, using the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to curb dissent. NISS agents regularly arrest opposition leaders, activists and journalists who voice anti-regime opinions.

Dilapidated economy 

Al-Bashir (75) took control at the height of a brutal north-south civil war that only ended in 2005. South Sudan broke away in 2011 to become the world’s newest nation-state.

Conflicts with rebels in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Analysts say these conflicts and a failure to boost agriculture in a country once renowned as a major grain producer have left Sudan’s economy in a shambles, despite Washington DC lifting a two-decade trade embargo in 2017.

The secession of the south — which took with it three-quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves — has triggered an acute foreign exchange shortage.

Inflation has soared to 70% while shortages of bread and fuel have hit the capital and other cities.

“The economy has been collapsing for almost a decade … but the regime functions as a kleptocracy and maintains power only through national budgets that are wildly skewed to military and security service expenses,” Reeves said.

I think the anger we’ve seen will not dissipate.

The current protests are more widespread than those in January 2018 and September 2013.

They began in outlying towns and cities, which had been left with a particularly acute shortage of flour, after supplies were diverted to Khartoum. Despite the attempt to stockpile reserves, the protests spread to the capital.

“The government and the ruling party were caught by surprise when protests erupted outside Khartoum,” Khalid Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff, said. 

“It just showed the ruling NCP how isolated it is.”

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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